17 September 2007

Cyberspace October 2007

Just a few jottings on some related current trends...

Net neutrality

There is a push both overseas and here for internet traffic to be regulated (read: slowed or extra cost) depending on the traffic type. USA senators are regularly lobbied on this and occasionally speak out (albeit in an uninformed fashion). Since we can have a voice conversation with anyone on the Internet for 30 minutes that costs less than a cent worth of my monthly bandwidth, there is a clear financial threat to the telephone companies. Perhaps they'd like that traffic throttled or at extra cost? Again, if I can download movies over the Internet the traditional movie suppliers are threatened - they might become lobbyists for net non-neutrality. Or perhaps just the Internet backbone providers just want a bigger slice of the cake...

Convergence

Mobile phone charges in Australia are very profitable for the carriers. But consider this imaginary scenario: engin (www.engin.com.au) runs telephony over the Internet. I don't have a phone line to my house - I have Optus cable. I have an engin box to which I've connected my ordinary phone, and I have a normal phone number. All my phone calls go out magically via the Internet and Engin. Any call within Australia is 10 cents untimed (compared to 27 cents for an Optus local call), and mobile and overseas calls are very cheap too. Now, there's another innovative company named Unwired (www.unwired.com.au). Unwired offers high speed Internet access wirelessly in many metropolitan areas - you can move house and your modem just moves with you. You have a wireless modem at home and your household can all share it, or you can have an Unwired card in your laptop and roam around metropolitan areas. Unwired doesn't care where you are in its service area - you just get high speed internet. Because this is just an Internet link, all the usual Internet applications just work. So, let's say engin and Unwired make friends (because they have a common shareholder), and they produce a very simple phone handset that makes engin phone calls over the Unwired network. What do we get? A "mobile phone" network where each call is incredibly cheap (I trust) and doesn't involve the traditional mobile carriers. Of course, if net neutrality doesn't exist, the ISPs could damage this scenario, so net neutrality becomes critical.

Living in the cloud

Google has offered "services in the cloud" for some time. By this I mean that it offers email, word processing, spreadsheets and photo sharing all without having to install software on your own PC. Of course, there are many other excellent products such as SOHO Writer that do this. Microsoft, not to be left out, has released a beta of some interesting products that cross that boundary (http://get.live.com). Windows Live Writer is a lightweight wordprocessing program that gets downloaded to your PC, but allows you to write documents and save them to blogs. However, it's nothing like Google's offering, probably because of the conflict of interest in sellling Word on the one hand and offering free wordprocessing on the other.

Google phone

Google has announced that it may bid at least USD$4.6 billion for 700 MHz spectrum (currently used for analogue tv) in the USA (http://tinyurl.com/3c5fvo), and has urged the FCC to adopt very open policies in favour of the consumer. Australia and Europe have always been far ahead of the USA in mobile phones because we often buy unlocked phones - in the USA it's the opposite, and phone companies disable features such as bluetooth in case you use your phone in a way that they can't profit from. Anyway, 700 MHz penetrates buildings well, and can be used for data, tv or voice. See "Convergence" paragraph above...